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Very Light Jets (VLJ) are the smallest private jets on the market.

Typically, these aircraft are used for 1 – 2 hour legs. However, in optimal conditions, some VLJs can fly non-stop for around 3 hours.

On the smaller end of the VLJ market – such as the Cirrus Vision Jet, Eclipse 500, Eclipse 550, and Cessna Citation Mustang, some conveniences are forgone. For example, with the exception of an emergency toilet on the Mustang, the previously mentioned aircraft do not have toilet facilities.

Generally speaking, VLJs can comfortably carry up to 4 passengers in a club configuration. In most cases, manufacturers claim additional passenger capacity by way of a belted lavatory and first officers’ seat in the cockpit.

The VLJs listed are all certified for single-pilot operation. The result is a great way to keep ownership costs down, as only one pilot is required. Additionally, VLJs are suitable for owners who also wish to pilot their aircraft solo.

History

Very Light Jets have had a relatively short history, with somewhat loose definitions affecting what is and isn’t classed as a VLJ.

For example, some have suggested that the Morane-Saulnier MS.760 Paris from the 1950s was the first Very Light Jet. This is because it has four seats and can be flown by a single pilot. However, this aircraft was considerably smaller than the aircraft that are considered a VLJ today.

For example, the MS.750 Paris had a sliding canopy to get into the cabin as opposed to a door like all other business jets.

Whether or not this is to be included as a VLJ, attempts at what would be considered a VLJ today started in the 1950s and 60s by Cessna. However, these aircraft either never came to fruition or were developed into larger aircraft (i.e. the CitationJet).

The 1970s and 80s led to further attempts of Very Light Jets.

However, these, again, never came to be. Again, this was before the Very Light Jet class had truly been defined.

It wasn’t until the early 2000s that interest in the air taxi market started to generate developments in the VLJ category.

As a result, this led to the Cessna Citation Mustang, Embraer Phenom 100, and Eclipse 500 being produced.

At this time there was huge interest and excitement around the air taxi market and it was expected to be the future for short hops in the United States and Europe.

However, despite the huge popularity of the Cessna Citation Mustang, the air taxi market did not perform as expected.

Of course, one of the main contributing factors was this all taking place around the financial crisis of 2007/2008 which massively reduced the appeal of taking private jets for quick 30-minute hops. Additionally, it was not a favorable look for executives to publicly be flying by private jet.

Since then VLJs have gotten bigger and are starting to knock on the door of light jets, with the exception of the Cirrus Vision Jet. The Vision Jet is a single-engine VLJ that takes the design philosophy of the popular Cirrus propeller aircraft and translates it to a highly capable and efficient jet aircraft.

Mission Criteria

Very Light Jets are typically used to carry up to 4 passengers for up to 2 hours.

Additionally, most VLJs are able to operate from runways that are only 3,000 feet in length. This, therefore, opens up a lot of possibilities for where these aircraft can fly.

As a result, VLJs are excellent for flying to remote destinations with small airports. However, they will get you there quicker than a propeller aircraft thanks to the powerful jet engines.

VLJs originally weren’t designed to have the comfort levels of Light Jets. This is best demonstrated by the lack of complete toilet facilities on aircraft such as the Citation Mustang and Eclipse 500.

The idea was that the missions they will usually fly are so short that most passengers will not require the toilet during flight.

That perfectly sums up the typicall mission criteria of these aircraft.

Short hops between remote and not well served locations.

In Production Very Light Jets

There are currently 4 Very Light Jets in production. However, the size does vary quite a bit between these aircraft.

Embraer Phenom 100EV

Embraer Phenom 100EV Exterior

The Embraer Phenom 100EV is the latest iteration of the highly successful Embraer Phenom 100. The Phenom 100/100EV is a very light jet (VLJ) developed by Embraer, the Brazilian aircraft manufacturer.

The Phenom 100 entered development in April 2005 and showed off a full-scale mock-up in November of the same year. The first flight for the Phenom 100 came in July 2007, was certified in December 2008 and the first delivery happened later that same month. The Phenom 100 soon got updated to the Embraer Phenom 100E, featuring minor updates and multifunction spoilers. The Phenom 100EV entered service in March 2017 with substantial weight savings, an increase in thrust, and an updated flight deck.

Operated by private owners, companies fractional ownership programs, charter operators, aircraft management companies, and military operators, the Phenom 100EV variants are highly popular for short distant flights. With nearly 400 units in active service, the Phenom 100 model is a great choice for those looking for an increase in speed over an equivalent-sized turboprop aircraft.

Cessna Citation M2

Cessna Citation M2 Exterior

The Cessna Citation M2 is the smallest jet in Cessna’s in-production aircraft lineup. The M2 is part of the Cessna CitationJet series of aircraft. Launched in 1989, the Model 525 first took flight in 1991. One year later FAA certification was received. Deliveries started two years later. The basic CitationJet model was further updated into the CJ1 and M2 variants. The CJ1 took a different path to the M2. The CJ1 was developed into the CJ2, then the CJ2+.

The M2 was launched in September 2011. Cessna based the M2 on the then out-of-production CJ1 variant of the CitationJet family. Cessna updated the M2 to feature a new cabin layout and more efficient engines. The first prototype flew in 2012 with production starting just one year level. Since 2013 over 250 M2 aircraft have entered service.

The M2 is marketed by Cessna as the entry-level jet for customers. Customers who are after more speed, more range, and more comfort. The M2 boasts serious jet performance. Thanks to its size, the M2 can be operated by a single pilot, making it perfect for customers who are looking for reduced costs or to pilot the aircraft themselves. Consequently, the M2 is a great candidate to be an owner/operator aircraft. However, note that single-pilot operation is the standard in the VLJ category. Many larger aircraft can even be operated by just one pilot – such as the Pilatus PC-24 and Embraer Phenom 300E.

HondaJet HA-420

HondaJet Exterior in blue paint, aerial shot above the clouds banking left

The HA-420 HondaJet is the culmination of decades of work from the Japanese company famous for taking their time to perfect their products. The development of the HondaJet started over 30 years ago, with the first flight of the aircraft taking place in December 2003 and full production starting in December 2015. Since the first aircraft rolled out the factory, the manufacturing plant in Greensboro, North Carolina has built over 150 HondaJets, categorized as a Very Light Jet (VLJ).

Cirrus Vision Jet

The Cirrus Vision Jet SF50 is a Very Light Jet (VLJ) which is powered by just one engine. Designed and produced by Cirrus Aircraft based in Duluth, Minnesota, USA, production started in the second half of 2016 and Cirrus has produced over 170 aircraft. Cirrus is typically known for the small, turboprop aircraft it produces, such as the SR20 and SR22, this is the only jet-powered aircraft the company produces.

The Vision Jet stands out due to its compact size and it being the first certified single-engine civilian jet. The Vision Jet received a warm reception when it was announced and before production started Cirrus had received over 600 orders for the aircraft.

Out of Production Very Light Jets

The Very Light Jet category isn’t a large one. There are just a handful of out of production VLJs.

Note that the Embraer Phenom 100 and Phenom 100E are also out of production light jets. However, they are extremely similar to the current in-production Phenom 100EV. Therefore, they are mentioned here but not in detail below.

Cessna Citation Mustang

Cessna Citation Mustang Exterior

The Cessna Citation Mustang is a single-pilot-certified jet aircraft, built to provide ample storage area, advanced engine controls, and a sleek aerodynamic design. The smallest of the Cessna Citation family, the Citation Mustang features one of the fastest cruising speeds and largest baggage capacities in the class, as well as a full Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) type certification to fly into known icing conditions.

Launched at the 2002 NBAA convention, the $2.4 million Mustang first flew on April 23, 2005. The airplane received full type certification from the Federal Aviation Administration on September 8, 2006. Cessna received FAA certification to fly into “known icing conditions” on November 9, 2006. Cessna delivered the first production LJ on November 22, 2006, the same day the FAA awarded Cessna with the necessary certification. Dave and Dawn Goode of GOODE Ski Technologies received the first retail delivered Cessna Mustang on April 23, 2007.

Eclipse 500

Eclipse 500 exterior in flight

The official name for the Eclipse 500 is the Eclipse Aerospace EA500. Deliveries of the Eclipse 500 began in 2006 and ceased in 2008. Deliveries ended after this two-year period due to a lack of funding. The company entered bankruptcy in November 2008.

However, in August 2009 Eclipse Aerospace bought out the assets of Eclipse Aviation. Following on from this, Eclipse Aerospace announced a newer version of the Eclipse 500 called the Eclipse 550.

Despite only being delivered to customers for two years, Eclipse Aviation was able to produce 260 aircraft. An extremely high number considering its short delivery window. The Eclipse 500 is a distinctive aircraft with a unique wing shape and single pilot capability.

Due to being a Very Light Jet, the Eclipse 500 is perfect for customers who are looking to fly with just one or two other people, with minimal luggage on a short flight.

The most similar aircraft to it that is currently available is the Cirrus Vision Jet. An aircraft that is perfect for owner/operators and small groups, just like the Eclipse 500.

Eclipse 550

Eclipse 550 Exterior

The Eclipse 550 is a very light jet initially built by Eclipse Aerospace and later One Aviation of Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States. The aircraft is a development version of the Eclipse 500, which was produced by predecessor Eclipse Aviation. Like the 500, the 550 is a low-wing, six-seat, twin-engine jet-powered aircraft. The Eclipse 550 is certified for single-pilot operation.

Eclipse Aerospace unveiled the Eclipse 550 at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) convention held in Las Vegas, Nevada, in October 2011. The aircraft production started at EA’s Albuquerque facility in New Mexico in June 2012 and the production certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was received in March 2013. The first delivery was made in March 2014.

Cost to Buy

As mentioned, VLJs are the most affordable category of private jet to purchase and own.

On average, most VLJs can be purchased for under $5 million.

The Cirrus Vision Jet, for example, can be purchased for just $3 million new, with an average pre-owned price of $2 million.

Given that VLJs are highly desirable there are plenty available on the market. Additionally, the depreciation is not as aggressive as some light jets.

Use the Aircraft Value tool to get the latest market values.

Cost to Operate

When it comes to aircraft ownership costs, VLJs are the most affordable.

This is because they are lighter and use less powerful engines than larger aircraft. Fuel burn is low for VLJs, resulting in lower fuel costs – one of the main factors driving up hourly variable costs.

Additionally, there is less to maintain on VLJs, landing fees will be lower, and less storage is required. Moreover, the value of the aircraft is far lower than larger aircraft, resulting in lower insurance costs.

Consequently, most VLJs will cost around $1,000 per hour to operate, with average annual fixed costs of around $250,000. Of course, these figures will vary from aircraft to aircraft, therefore use the Ownership Calculator to work out how much any given aircraft will cost to operate per year.

When to Use

Very Light Jets are perfect when you need to fly between remote locations with short runways for short distances and with just a handful of passengers.

The line between VLJs and Light Jets has been blurred in recent years given that VLJs now feature attributes such as fully enclosed lavatories.

Therefore, if you can fit the passengers onboard and the range is enough for your mission, then a VLJ is a cost-effective solution.

In total there are just over 2,000 Very Light Jets in active service.

While this is much lower than other categories of private jets it is important to remember that there are far fewer models available and they haven’t been around for as long.

Comparing with the number of Light Jets is unfair in that Light Jets have been around for decades, while true VLJs have only been around for the past 15 – 20 years.

Summary

Very Light Jets are great aircraft for short hops around the United States and Europe (e.g. Paris to Geneva).

They provide a cost-effective way to get between areas with short runways.

Benedict

Benedict is a dedicated writer, specializing in in-depth discussions of private aviation ownership and its associated topics.

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